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Welcome to the premiere of By The Cover, a series where I highlight the best (and some of the worst) covers of songs from musicals I’ve reviewed before.
For our first installment, I thought I’d revisit the one that started it all and gave me the inspiration to create this, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Snow White, in addition to being the first full-length American animated feature, was the first movie to release its soundtrack to the public for their listening pleasure. If that wasn’t enough, the popularity of its songs saw many renditions by many well-known artists of the day. As time went on and Snow White was viewed as just another cartoon for the kids, the music found its way to many records aimed at young children. But it found new life in the 60s as jazz musicians took turns sampling the time-honored tunes and made them part of their repertoire. And it hasn’t stopped since. Snow White’s status as a Disney classic means there will always be some new iteration of its iconic melodies.
Let’s listen to a few of them, shall we?
I’m Wishing / One Song
Mary Martin, Mary Martin Hi Ho
All right, I know I’m cheating by putting these two songs together, but One Song does come up right on the heels of I’m Wishing and the soundtrack combines them into one track, so I’m treating them as one. Though in all honesty I’m really using this as an excuse to talk about one of my all-time favorite Broadway singers and actresses, Mary Martin. I grew up watching her iconic televised performance of Peter Pan and her voice alone had me hooked for life. Her Disney album showcases her tremendous range and energy, though its her renditions of I’m Wishing and One Song that are my favorites. Most covers lean towards the sentimental side, or at worst, feel phoned in. Not these, though. Backed by the Tutti Camarata Orchestra, which supplied lush musical rearrangements for many Disney records back in the day, Martin shines as always. Genuinely beautiful, and beautifully genuine.
Honorable Mention #1: Dave Brubeck, At The Movies. Remember this name, you’ll be seeing it quite often throughout this post.
Honorable Mention #3: Pepe Nufrio. Don’t know who this guy is, but I hope he goes places. ‘Cause with a voice like that…
With a Smile and a Song
Fred Mollin, Disney’s Princess Lullaby
“Ew, Shelf, you’re going for a baby album”, you say? Oh, ye of little faith. I stumbled across this cover and the various other princess themed ones on this album well before I knew its source and I was enchanted by it. A calm, soothing, fully orchestrated ballad that captures the warm optimistic spirit of the original in every sense. Just the thing for a comforting pick-me-up.
Whistle While You Work
NRBQ, Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films
If you need to wake up from the previous number, here’s a playful upbeat ditty that’ll do the trick. Coming off of one of my favorite Disney cover compilations, NRBQ’s take mixes a little pop, a little blues, a little rock and a little jazz to form its own original creation. Not only will it have you whistling while you work, but shakin’ your thang around the house too…not that I would know…
TIE: Gail Reese / The Vandals
I didn’t think I’d reach my first tie so soon but can you blame me? Heigh-Ho is the most popular song to come out of Snow White. Its catchy appeal has ensured countless successful reinterpretations based on the changing musical styles of the past 80 years. And if you thought picking just one cover was hard enough, wait ’til you see the honorable mentions!
As the title of the video indicates, this swing version of Heigh-Ho was used in a popular Levi’s commercial a couple of years back. How nice of them to elevate a less remembered but great cover to the spotlight.
I first encountered The Vandals’ punk rock rendition on a Disney rock cover album that was released only in Japan. I’m glad it received a wider release since it’s one of my favorite tracks from there. The “Dig-Dig-Dig” first half pays tribute to the song’s origins, but the next part is where things kick into high gear. I almost want to laugh at how speedy it is, but I’m too busy fighting the urge to headbang. When I rode the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Disney World for the first time, this fast-paced cover immediately came to mind. It shares the same fun thrills as my new favorite coaster.
Honorable Mention #5: Neverland Orchestra. Anyone who grew up in the 90’s will recognize 0:26 on from the theatrical re-release trailer and home video announcement for Snow White. That buildup leading into the chorus is nothing short of epic.
Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dum (The Dwarfs’ Washing Song)
Evelyn Knight and the Andy Love Four
This song…hoo boy! It works in the context of the movie and is fine enough, I guess, but I was tempted to skip this one altogether because it gave me NOTHING to work with. The most I was able to dredge up in my search for covers were two takes from two different kiddie LPs that were both embarrassingly cloying. It’s hard to make a song about personal hygiene work is all I’m saying.
Luckily, I found this, and it was all thanks to a misunderstanding. See, a comment in a video of one of those kiddie covers led me to believe that at some point, for some reason, Perry Como covered this number, which is like learning that Frank Sinatra made an album of Barney songs.
Anyway, I set out to find this supposed cover and in my search came across this one by Evelyn Knight and the Andy Love Four (but how does he feel about Three or Five?) as part of a 1949 LP of Snow White’s soundtrack interpreted by Lyn Murray and his orchestra. The first half is average, but I appreciate how the second half loosens up and gets a bit jazzy. The style services the song and rescues it from total mediocrity.
The Silly Song (aka The Dwarfs’ Yodeling Song)
The Comedian Harmonists
Like the previous number there’s precious few covers of this tune. Unlike The Washing Song, however, I had slightly better luck finding more takes on this one. I almost excluded my choice because it cheats a little by opening and closing with a snippet of Heigh-Ho. But since that’s the most famous song from this movie, I don’t begrudge anyone for riding on its popularity. As a bonus, this cover includes rarely heard extra lyrics which were supposed to be sung by Sneezy but were cut from the final film:
The minute after I was born
I didn’t have a nighty
So I tied my whiskers ’round my legs
And used them as a dia-ACHOO!
It’s hard for me to say why I prefer this cover over the ones that had professionally trained yodeling country singers, but I suppose it came down to that old-timey quality I can’t get enough of. You know what time period this was recorded in not just from the quality but by how the singers sound. It’s simple, but I enjoy that simplicity every now and then.
That and I don’t particularly care for country, so the alternate choice will usually win out. Just a heads up for future installments of this series.
The Comedian Harmonists actually have quite a fascinating history. They originated from Germany and were something of an a cappella group, one of the very first in Europe to popularize it, in fact. Listen to the song and you’ll hear the only thing accompanying them is a barely audible piano. They know how to create a strong melody and play off each other using only their voices. They tried to make it big in the US, but their popularity there waned in the late 30’s as it did for all things German…for very good reason.
Even though they were forced to return Germany after America turned them away, the band miraculously survived World War 2 – but they did so by breaking up. Bans were coming down hard on Jewish entertainment of any kind under Ol’ Ficklegrubber’s regime; the only way they could ride it out was to divide themselves and thus divide any chances of being captured by the gestapo. From there The Comedian Harmonists fell into obscurity until an extremely in-depth documentary was made in the 70’s surrounding the lives of the surviving members. A few bio pics and a musical by Barry Manilow were created afterwards, but to this day they’re not as well known in the states as they are in Europe.
Honorable Mention: This video I found where two kids from a Swedish music school cover the whole song using only percussion instruments while dressed as Santa…I forgot that YouTube will sometimes take you to weird places if you let it.
Someday My Prince Will Come
TIE: Dave Brubeck Quartet / Miles Davis and John Coltrane / Bill Evans Trio
Last tie, I swear. I wanted to pick just one but I’m not schooled enough in jazz to really know which one is ostensibly “better” than the rest. And even THAT is thrown into question considering all art is subjective.
There’s a famous episode of the Disneyland series preserved on Sleeping Beauty’s 50th anniversary DVD called “Four Artists Paint One Tree”. As you can glean from the title, four of Disney’s most prominent artisans – animator and imagineer Marc Davis, background artists Walt Peregoy and Eyvind Earle, and special effects animator Josh Meador – are tasked with drawing the same tree, yet each of them produces a distinct result. I look at these jazz covers of Someday My Prince Will Come in the same manner; the recognizable melody is there, but each musician turns it into something that is wholly their own. Which one you prefer is up to you, but all three are still worthy of mention for their unique styling of a tune we’re all familiar with.
Honorable Mention #2: Chet Baker Trio. Sick of jazz yet?
When I rediscovered Simply Mad About the Mouse, a VHS tape that featured music videos of popular artists from the late 80s/early 90s covering Disney classics, I was in hog heaven. That tape was a big part of my Disney-loving childhood. Then I found the music album with those covers and was upgraded to bacon heaven (it’s like hog heaven but much tastier). What’s more, the album had an extra song on it that wasn’t in the video by En Vogue, a group I grew up hearing on the radio, and I was super excited to listen to it after all these years!
And then I heard the song.
And I quickly realized they left it off the video for a very good reason.
En Vogue, you’re a great band and part of the reason why I hold 90s R&B so dear to my heart. But not even you talented ladies could save this rendition. For something that’s only the length of your average Mickey Mouse short it feels like an eternity. And that synth backing. It’s like someone left the tempo demo of a Casio keyboard run on a loop for nearly six minutes. It’s the equivalent of being stuck waiting by a leaky faucet while you’re waiting to go somewhere. But you don’t go anywhere because nothing ever changes! The whole time I waited for something – a key change, a bridge, ANYTHING to make it more interesting. I mean I love my cheesy 90s pop ballads and I’m not embarrassed to admit it, but is THIS what everyone who hates them hears when they’re playing? Good god, no wonder those people are falling asleep! And they really had to drag poor One Song into this too? I’d say this was the worst thing to happen to Snow White since Rob Lowe but…
…nope, Rob Lowe is still worse. But this is a close second. I’m sorry En Vogue, but you’ve earned the dubious distinction of being the very first By The Cover Dishonorable Mention.
I’d hate for this to end on a sour note (heh, see what I did there?) so let’s instead wrap it up with a –
BONUS TRACK: Wishery
Fine, I confess, this is just another way for me to talk a bit about another one of my favorite artists, Pogo, aka Nick Bertke. Bertke is an Australian musician who shot to online stardom by creating original remixes from the sounds of familiar movies, television series, video games, and even other forms of music. Classic Disney has always been a go-to source for his sampling since one of his first mixes, comprised totally of bits from Alice in Wonderland, went viral in 2007.
For me, Wishery captures Snow White’s essence in a nutshell. It’s catchy, fun, and has the makings of a classic. Bertke takes pieces we’re accustomed to, has a ball playing around with them, and in the process fashions one of his defining tracks. And that’s nothing to say of his sheer enthusiasm whenever he mixes this particular one live.
Speaking of live shows, I was fortunate to attend one in 2011 and let me tell you, it was a blast! Unfortunately due to a visa mixup mishandled by his then-manager, Bertke was deported and banned from visiting the US until 2021. While that thankfully hasn’t put a damper on his work – if anything it’s given him more time to improve himself and put out some amazing content – I’ve been counting down the days until he can make one hell of a grand homecoming. ‘Til that happy moment, there’s always his occasional livestreams, which are the closest thing to attending one of his concerts.
And that about does it for this first By The Cover. I certainly hope you enjoyed it! Are there any covers you enjoy? What musical from the past should I cover next? Let me know in the comments and until then, happy listening!
Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this, please consider supporting me on Patreon. Patreon supporters get early access to By The Cover posts as well as perks including extra movie review votes. Special thanks to Amelia Jones and Gordhan Ranaj for their contributions!